It has been over a year since the internationally successful reality-based TV contest known as "Pop Idol" first aired in the Czech Republic. Known here as Cesko hleda superstar the programme brought instant fame to singers, with most of last year's finalists releasing albums since. In this Panorama we'll be looking at arguably the three best singers to emerge from the first series: Aneta Langerova, who won, along with Samer Issa and Martina Balogova - who were among the top finalists.
It is these singers' albums that have been the best received. We'll be looking at reasons why - as well looking at the wider impact of the Pop Idol contest on the Czech music scene.
May, 2004. Already, Aneta Langerova, the expressive 18-year-old from Ricany, near Prague, seems poised to win. On the streets of Prague, when we ask pedestrians who they root for, it is Aneta's name that comes up the most.
"One champion: Aneta Langerova. She's a very typical singer - she's the same as Alanis Morissette, the same style."
"The show got me because one of the contestants, Aneta Langerova, is actually a family friend! So we're keeping our fingers crossed."
Clearly, Aneta's story of a young person with lots of talent had attracted more fans than any of her competitors: even lyricist Michal Horacek - known for some very famous "Czech chansons" - became an early fan. Even now, for Aneta, he has nothing but the highest praise.
"Last year's winner Aneta was extraordinary. Maybe a person like that is born just once in a decade."
But, has Aneta's album, titled Spousta andelu, or "Lots of Angels", been well received? Among fans, the answer is a resounding "Yes". Her CD has sold more than 85,000 copies. Several of her songs have become hits that get extensive play on the air. One of her first hits, known as "Dolphin" or "Delfin" in Czech, quickly climbed to the top of the charts. Another, Hrisna tela, kridla motyli - "Sinful bodies, butterfly wings" shows the depth of her confidence and range.
Where there have been some reservations it has been mostly among critics. Some find fault with the fact that the songs on the CD were not written by Aneta herself but by seasoned professionals. Another minus, arguably, is the fact that many of the songs - including "Delfin" - are musical covers. It is maybe not surprising Aneta and her producers reached for certain ready-made solutions. But, the album suffers as a result, says music critic Petr Vizina, who writes for the Czech daily Lidove Noviny:
"I think it was a bit hurried, a bit rushed. I think it was one of the weaknesses of the company that looked after the winner that suddenly they found themselves busy with the album of the winner, although they had known for a few months that there would be a winner. They really put it together very quickly, so, that's probably one of the weaknesses of the album. On the other hand, you can hear that she's got a good voice and a personality, despite the material, compared to the standard of Czech music, even."
Did he really think it was that weak? I pushed Petr Vizina on the point.
"You know, we don't look at is an 'ordinary' album. We look at it as an album by Aneta, which is something different! If she hadn't won the competition and you just found the album in the shop you would say 'Oh, its' nice'. But, revolutionary? It isn't."
His view reflects that of other critics who generally rated "Lots of Angels" B, sometimes B+: in the future when Aneta begins writing her own material, sifting through her own experiences and feelings, many are certain she will grow into a truly enduring star.
"For me personally the most attractive thing about it is, is that it's promising. You can see the potential, how it can really come to life. If she finds herself in the process as an author and begins writing her own songs or she finds a group of musicians close to her and dedicated to her, that for me is the most compelling aspect.
In many ways, Samer Issa and Martina Balogova did not face quite the same pressure as Aneta, the Czechs' first "pop idol". Having come in 3rd and 5th respectively, also graded "Bs" by many critics for their work, they were given more time and space. Unlike Aneta, most of their songs are in English, and unlike Aneta, who has leanings to rock and pop rock, Samer and Martina are most at home with R 'n B and a little hip hop. English was the natural choice. Samer's album has a punchy title and lead song called "Busted!" set to arresting rhythms, the sound of police cruisers and the sound "of the street".
Many critics find Martina Balogova's album catchy too, with shades of Mariah Carey, or groups like Atomic Kitten. Of all the finalists in the Czech version of Pop Idol, she displayed perhaps the most consistent talent but sometimes overly pushed the point: her vocal curly-cues are more reined in here - or, more specifically, used selectively for greater punch. I suggested to Petr Vizina that both Samer's and Martina's albums had very American sounds, something he welcomed. But he nevertheless suggested it would be good if the albums retained Czech elements too.
"It's good that it's reached this level. On the other hand, I always try to find something local in it. I don't know how I would judge it if I didn't know the [singers' stories]."
American Ted Whang, a songwriter based in Prague worked on Martina's album titled "Not From Here", including the song of the same name. He sees it tied to more universal themes; here he describes what the song is about.
"The fact that this world is often very rough and very depressing but when we find love we realise that we're from somewhere else, that our home is somewhere else."
There is no question all three singers - Aneta, Martina, Samer, have had an impact, on the Czech music scene, to at least some degree shaking up long tried and tested formulas, announcing they have arrived. There was rarely a day when the contest was on, for better or for worse, that the media failed to reflect on the ready-made stars.
Ultimately, whether Pop Idol - Cesko hleda superstar - produces stars with real depth and staying power is impossible to say at this point. Lyricist Michal Horacek summed up this year's finalists with the following words, that could easily apply for all.
"They did get a good chance, maybe an excellent chance, to really do something with their artistic development. Maybe they will not go as far as a third album. I don't know. I hope that they do, and I hope that they make maybe a dozen. But, this is nothing else but a chance."
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